Actually, NFC South looks like a tough division. I won’t believe in the Saints, though, until Haslett shows that he can get them to play hard for a full year. Too much talent on both sides of the ball to be as consistently mediocre as they have for the last 4 years. I also am an Atlanta skeptic. Vick is an amazing talent, but I wonder whether he will develop the accuracy that he will need to thrive in the West Coast offense they aqre asking him to run. He will forever be a great player to watch, bu t the same talents and fearlessness that make him so entertaining also make him an injury waiting to happen. Dynamic running QB’s either learn to pass accurately and dump off the ball or they have short carreers in teh NFL.
Carolina is tough. But I can’t believe that they will again have a year in which every close game (until the big one!!) breaks in their favor. It’s hard to imagin that the Panthers will suffer the same drop off that plagued the Bucs and Raiders and Rams and Patriots and Ravens and . . . after their Super Bowl years, but the pattern has become persuasive. Still, I see the Bucs and Panthers fighting it out for first in the division.
My own rose-tinted assessment of the Bucs is:
D has a chance to be outstanding. Much of their trouble last year was due to poor secondary play, particularly tackling, and sloopy play by every linebacker not named Brooks. The first problem was due mainly to injuries. Kelly missed most of the season and Barber played hurt for all of it. Lynch was also a step slow at times (I hated to see him go, and I fear we will miss his tenacious leadership, but athletically we will be improved at safety.) Dwight Smith will also benefit if we manage to avoid Cb injuries this year. His adjustement to free safety suffered last year from having to slide to nickel back on obvious passing downs. Ian Gold helps solidify one linebacker spot, and if Quarles stays healthy then I think he will again be fine at Mike. D-Line looks deep and talented. McFarlane will do fine replacing Sapp, and it looks like we will have a good battle for starting right end. Unfortunately, the rest of the D lacks this depth. We could be outstanding, but we could also be two undortunate injuries away from “good but nothing special”.
On O, we are lining up a whole lot of question marks and trusting Gruden to turn them into a success story. I wish McCardekll were in camp. Galloway looks great after 2 days in shorts, buit it’s been 4-years since he really scared opposing coordinators. He does still look fast, according to all reports. Really fast. Clayton looks to be a strong rookie wideout, but he is still a rookie wideout. Will he be another Randy or Anquain? I doubt it, but I think he may contribute 35-40 catches and some key first downs. Joe J. hasn’t hit the field yet, buy it was lower back spasms not his knee keeping him down. I certainly hope he gets back to form, both because he seems to be a class act and because he made 2 of the prettiest catches I saw all of last year before getting injured. Charles Lee hasn’t looked good this year, but pads go on tomorrow. At RB, I am very glad Alstott is back. We lacked a power runner for the tough inside yards while he was out last year. I am thrilled to have picked up Garner. We haven’t had an explosive back like him since Dunn left. Brad Johnson will be fine, I think. He tailed off late last season, but that was I think caused largely by: the keyshawn fiasco, really bac line play, and no consistent running game. I wish we had kept Jones and let Pittman leave, but I am hoping that garner keeps Mike on the sidelines even after his 3 games are served. O-line is the biggest question mark of all. We brought in a lot of beef, but O’Dwyer is already on the IR. How well they mesh, and how much the line as a whole is improved, will dictate whether we make the playoffs, I think.
For now, I’m a cautious believer. I will feel a whole lot better, though, if the starting O-Line does not include Kenyatta “facemask or hold?” Walker.